War in Literature: A No-Peace Piece

With all the tragic fighting this summer in Gaza, Iraq, the Ukraine, and elsewhere, my literature-obsessed mind began to think about novels referencing wars, lead-ups to wars, and aftermaths of wars.

That mindset also had something to do with reading For Whom the Bell Tolls last week. Ernest Hemingway’s intense novel takes place during the Spanish Civil War, which pitted those loyal to Spain’s democratically elected government against Francisco Franco’s ultimately victorious fascists. (A war my wife’s late father, Robert Cummins, experienced as a member of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.)

Hemingway — who covered the Spanish Civil War as a reporter and was wounded during the earlier World War I — uses For Whom the Bell Tolls to expertly touch on almost everything that makes many war novels riveting: death, injury, fear, courage, exhaustion, coping strategies, smart decisions, dumb decisions, poignant romances that blossom almost instantly, the psychological devastation of some survivors, and more. War novels are almost inherently dramatic, because the characters know they might lose their lives at any moment.

That’s certainly the case with Erich Maria Remarque’s heartbreaking A Time to Love and a Time to Die, in which Elizabeth and soldier Ernst meet during Ernst’s brief furlough and desperately try to condense a lifetime’s worth of a relationship into way too short a time.

Remarque also wrote several other remarkable novels with pre-war, war, and post-war themes — including Arch of Triumph, The Night in Lisbon, and of course All Quiet on the Western Front. Like Hemingway, Remarque had a visceral sense of war from his own experiences — as a soldier hurt during World War I and as an exile from his native Germany after being vilified by a Nazi regime that later brutally beheaded his sister Elfriede in displaced revenge against Remarque.

The Remarque canon also includes Spark of Life, a superb and sorrowful novel set in a World War II concentration camp — where much of William Styron’s beyond-sad Sophie’s Choice takes place as well.

Another author deeply affected by war was Kurt Vonnegut, whose darkly humorous Slaughterhouse-Five was inspired by the author’s traumatic time as a WWII prisoner. There’s also the satirical masterpiece Catch-22 by WWII bombardier Joseph Heller.

While it certainly helps to have firsthand military knowledge before writing a war novel, some authors manage to create excellent works without that direct experience. They include Stephen Crane, whose The Red Badge of Courage is set in America’s Civil War; and Dalton Trumbo, who depicts the physical devastation of Joe Bonham in his powerful antiwar novel Johnny Got His Gun. Library research, visiting battlefields after the fact, and interviewing veterans are among the devices that help such authors.

Not surprisingly, fewer women than men write war novels — which reflects, among other things, usually having less combat experience than males (though that’s of course changing these days as more women enter the military). Still, some female authors have written about war and its toll as well or better than men. They include Willa Cather, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning One of Ours takes place during World War I; and Virginia Woolf, whose Mrs. Dalloway searingly conveys post-war stress via the shell-shocked Septimus Smith character.

Speaking of WWI, Larry Darrell in W. Somerset Maugham’s absorbing The Razor’s Edge becomes a spirituality seeker after a terrible experience during that century-ago carnage.

Many novels feature fictional wars, but the emotions of the characters who fight are much the same as those felt by participants in real wars. Among those books are J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (with its dramatic battle at Hogwarts), H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, and J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien’s depiction of warfare in his iconic trilogy was at least partly inspired by World War I experiences that included the almost complete wipe-out of his battalion while the future author was on sick leave.

More examples of real-life conflicts depicted in memorable novels: The Siege of Orleans and other bloody skirmishes in Mark Twain’s Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, The Battle of Bothwell Bridge in Sir Walter Scott’s Old Mortality, The Revolutionary War in Robertson Davies’ Murther & Walking Spirits, the Haitian Revolution in Madison Smartt Bell’s All Souls’ Rising, and South Africa’s anti-apartheid fight in Nadine Gordimer’s My Son’s Story. I haven’t read any Vietnam War novels (yet).

What are your favorite novels, or other literary works, with war themes?

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone else.)

For three years of my Huffington Post literature blog, click here.

I’ve also written more than half of a literature-related book, but I’m still selling my often-funny Comic (and Column) Confessional memoir — which recalls 25 years of covering/meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, and various authors. The memoir also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in New York City and Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. I can be reached at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson, among others.

201 thoughts on “War in Literature: A No-Peace Piece

  1. I don’t know if it’s just me or if perhaps everybody else experiencing problems with your blog.

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    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your comment, corn fritters — and sorry about the problem viewing some text. Not sure if you’re using a computer or mobile device. I use a computer, and can see everything fairly well — although long threads eventually make the later comments in those threads kind of thin. A few people who view the blog on mobile devices tell me they sometimes have issues seeing some things.

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  3. I’m late here. Hi Dave! I assume you’ll notice new comments anyways. Not that I have a lot to say about war literature, I avoid it usually. I read Remarque’s first, of course, after that I thought I don’t need to hurt myself reading other anti-war books, they don’t need to convince. Then when I was still young a GI returning from Vietnam gave me a worn old copy of “Johny got his gun”, and I read it. Not all the way I admit, I felt I knew how terrible the ending would be. Tolkien, yeah, his wars of Middle Earth … he was a benevolent, gentle, writer as far as warfare goes, sweet for the soul. Manageble. Why anyone would watch this TV show “Game of Thrones” i don’t know, all violence, as if there’s not enough in the real world. The Ilias is bad enough.

    So, I didn’t read many of the books you mention, I’m afarid. But I take it that most deal with the fate of soldiers or fighters. And that I am wondering about for a while now – are there any famous books with the plight of civilians in war, with civilian “heroes” (in a literary sense)? The closest I see to that is Brecht’s play “Mother Courage and her Children” which is still close to the soldiers. And the ending of the Ilias, of course, brief, but a stark contrast to the long story of the “heros” fights before. That, the fate of the Trojan civilians, has always touched me as a strong signal (?), makes the whole epic a real thing, shows the waring heroes being members of a Kindergarten group, shows who is really paying the price of war. All being said there what is to be said about war IMO.

    (I guess I’ll take a while to move to more recent posts, thank you for this one.)

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    • Late is okay, littleprincess! (I get an email notification for all new comments, so I find out about them even when they’re under older posts.) Hope the second half of your summer has been going well!

      As with you, war literature is not my favorite genre, but inevitably one reads some of it. So many wars, and so many novels set during wartime. Yes, Remarque — with his expert insights and pathos as he shows characters during wartime — covers just about all the bases. I love his work, as painful as it often is to read what he depicts.

      And, speaking of painful, “Johnny Got His Gun” was certainly that. Among other things, it was such a devastating portrayal of how “the powers that be” often succeed in hiding much of the awful consequences of war so that political careers can be advanced and so that arms manufacturers can continue making huge sums of money off of suffering.

      As for civilians in war, my latest piece about young protagonists in literature discusses one of the few novels I’ve read that really focuses on that. It’s “History” (set mostly during WWII) by the Italian author Elsa Morante, and it’s a truly memorable book.

      Your paragraph about civilians in war was superb — as was your whole comment.

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      • Thank you for suggesting the Italian book, maybe I should jump to your latest post.
        Though I kind of like looking at old threads, they have a tranquille feel, like being alone in a museum at night. Maybe I aquired the taste on HP, being alone, reading in the morning when most posters went to sleep, some late night west coast people still up 🙂
        I read the “enemy” text. And I smiled at the Count of Monte Christo reference. For me, the Musketeers with their emphasis on friendship were always more attractive. The Count shows how easy having an enemy can lead to an obsession that’s destructive. The Mylady-motive in the Musketeers shows the same IMO.

        Thank you for the compliment, another benefit of old threads, I don’t feel so much like blushing 🙂

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        • You’re very welcome, littleprincess, and I appreciate the follow-up comment!

          Loved your analogy — “like being in a museum at night”! Old posts do indeed get quiet, and I can see how you being in a different time zone can even make current posts temporarily quiet. (Speaking of quiet, HP seems to have wiped out every comment under my old posts and I assume other old posts. Not even the courtesy of telling me in advance so I could have tried cutting-and-pasting the comments into some kind of archive of my own.)

          “History” is long (about 750 pages), but very engrossing. Antiwar, humanitarian, progressive, depressing, and more — with several extremely memorable characters. Morante had some WWII experience (she and her husband had to flee Rome because of the Nazis), and I also think her woman’s perspective helped make “History” one of the most interesting wartime novels I’ve read.

          Great comparison between Dumas’ “The Count of Monte Cristo” and his “The Three Musketeers”! The latter is definitely “sunnier,” while still having some harsh moments. (And “The Three Musketeers” sequels get more somber.) Still, although the Count was obsessive, there was a visceral thrill in him getting his revenge. Perhaps some reader wish fulfillment there, because we see that people who wrong other people often subsequently do quite well in spite of that — or because of that.

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          • I don’t like the revenge thing. It’s a big danger IMO. Makes you become the same way as the offender, or think the same way, or ruining your humanity – that is how I see it. (Not talking of pranks and jokes or small things.) If at all neccessary, I’m content with the (ideal) justice system where someone else steps in, without the revenge feeling, weighing all aspects. (I did say “ideal” .-)) )

            The book “History” sounds like I want to read it. I make a note for my next trip to the bookstore, but will read when I have more time. Some cold January day… (I have another deadline coming up this year).

            Talking of winter, I came back because I forgot to say that my second half of summer was a bit bumpy, just different. I’m wishing for one of those long summers like in childhood!

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            • I hear you, littleprincess, about the issue of revenge. Thirsting for revenge can leave the wronged party embittered even as the culprit might feel no regrets, and actual revenge can create a cycle of more retribution. While I fantasize revenge against certain people, I never put those fantasies into practice. But, if asked, I don’t hesitate to talk negatively about those certain people. 🙂

              If the justice system was more ideal, it would certainly help assuage revenge feelings. But that system is unfortunately rigged for the rich and powerful. (I know I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know!)

              Sorry your summer has been a bit bumpy. I know you had a lot of work to deal with, so another deadline doesn’t sound appealing. A little more downtime would be nice. But a person needs to make a living. And if family visits were any part of the bumpiness, those visits can indeed have mixed moments.

              If you do read “History,” please let me know what you think! The book’s kid character Giuseppe is SO endearing.

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          • And I just come back from checking on HP.
            Yes, all my comments to blogs are gone. That includes comments on HP officials’ blogs on HP policy, if I checked right.

            Your comments on “The Blog” article about puzzling books are on your profile. But not under the blogarticle. I checked with a featured blog article by Grover Norquist. He has comments under the article.

            I haven’t been to HP in a long while, I don’t read there anymore. Why should I supply them with clicks?! Okay, I just did…

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            • “Why should I supply them with clicks?! Okay, I just did…” — ha, ha! 🙂 I know the feeling. I’ve gone back there a few times (though less and less) to check on things like the wiped-out comments, and also feel guilty about giving the site clicks.

              Seriously, it really is an outrage that comments were deleted (I assume to reduce the bandwidth the comments take up so as to allow more room for ads and trashy posts). You, bebe, and others put a lot of time and thought into your excellent comments and replies.

              It seems that they keep comments under new posts, and then delete them after the posts have been up for a while — perhaps after two months, at which time they used to not allow more comments but kept the comments already there.

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              • Oh…I am guilty of clicks…as you said earlier..initially i clicked almost daily, now I click if I only want to. They have done us a big favor Dave…we are so cured of HP tentacles.

                One of our dear HP friend removed himself long ago XCITIZEN…used to say it is like the song ” Hotel California”…once you get in can`t leave. I see a whole lot of X rated blogs on the left hand side…eek..

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                • bebe, great “Hotel California” analogy by XCITIZEN! (I love that Eagles song.) And “HP tentacles” — an accurate phrase!

                  Yes, it HAS been hard to get away from HP, but it has mostly happened for me, you, and many others. Would love to know how much traffic they’ve lost. And you’re right — more and more trash there. Maybe they’re getting a lot of visits from garbage collectors. 🙂

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        • I know what you mean dearest LP…it is like walking first thing in the morning with my soul-mate, so nice and peaceful with gentle breeze. Only a few runners, walkers in my neighborhood.

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  4. Much better than HuffPost if I may say so! I’ve not been able to check all comments, but here it goes: I’m a great fan of the Saxon saga by British writer Bernard Cornwell…not a book about war as such, but about a continuous war waged between the invading vikings and the anglo-saxons led (strategically, spiritually) by King Alfred the Great & by the reluctantly following Northumbrian Uthred of Bebbanburg at the end of the 9th century A.D. When in battle, these books (I’m reading #4, the Burning Land, now) are at their finest. And as I said, it’s continuous war…a particular way to look at history for sure, but it feels appropriate. From a distance anyway and as long as one remembers that there are, and were, many more things than war to bring about the culture that we’re now enjoying, not all of us, but more and more, hopefully. Looking forward to many more fine pieces, Dave!

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    • Marcus, I’m very glad to hear from you again, and to see a very eloquent comment on literature from you again! Also glad that you find this blog to be better than HP; I gravitated away from that site for reasons I described in my reply to “forpeace” below.

      The saga you describe sounds fascinating; what a work of writing and scholarship on the part of Bernard Cornwell! I will look for one of his historical novels at my local library.

      Continuous war — ugh. And certainly not just limited to more than a millennium ago. 😦

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  5. Dear Dave Astor,

    Congratulations on your own blog!!
    I am so happy for you. You are well deserved to have your own blog.

    My dear friend Bebe informed me about your blog. I just stopped by to say hello, and thank you for the well written article, well done as usual.

    I will check your blog in the future to read the new articles.

    Have a lovely weekend!

    Liked by 1 person

    • So nice to hear from you, forpeace! I greatly admired your comments at HP, before so many people understandably left the site because of all the comment-format changes and more. Among the comments of yours I enjoyed were those you posted under my book columns just before the HP exodus began.

      I kept posting columns at HP (albeit less often) until May of this year, but then belatedly decided enough was enough. The comment-format changes, the elimination of anonymity, the long waits for comments to post (many hours and even days), the deletions of not-objectionable comments, the ignoring of reader concerns, and so on.

      Anyway, enough ranting by me. 🙂 I am grateful to bebe for telling you about my blog, and thanks for your kind words and congratulations about it!

      Have a great weekend, too!

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        • Hello Dave, thank you for the reply, I will check your blog when I get a chance, I don’t want to miss any of the excellent articles you publish in here.
          See you soon, and have a lovely Sunday evening.

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          • You’re welcome, forpeace, and thanks for the additional kind words! Looks like my next post will go up tomorrow (Monday) morning. Things just got too busy today. 🙂

            Have a great Sunday evening, too!

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      • Fully understand these! While the technical/comments delay issues were annoying, I thought the deletion policy was highly opaque and seemed to mostly slow down discussion nothing else. I find it hard to imagine how they could possibly replace you: I’m not a regular half post reader but they can’t be many threads of discussion like the ones you generated regularly — almost devoid of spamming, high quality of discourse, tons of suggestions and ideas… almost like a continuous class on literature. In other words: you are unique, special and, as far as I’m concerned, an indispensable part of this virtual cosmos! Kudos to you, Mr. Astor.

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        • Yes, HP’s moderation (the human part and the automated part) was bizarre. Objectionable comments would often make it through, and intelligent, reasoned comments would periodically get spiked. Highly opaque indeed! And the posting delays killed, or nearly killed, many conversations.

          Thanks, Marcus, for the VERY kind praise of my HP pieces! I really appreciate it! And whatever I contributed was aided hugely by the wonderful comments about literature (and other topics) posted by many people, including you. That made for such a great discourse.

          Not sure HP cared much about any individual blogger. I certainly never got a thank you from anyone there to supplement the zero pay. And when I would wrote to HP about a technical issue or other matter, I would usually get ignored — just as HP readers who wrote in were usually ignored.

          HP and its AOL parent want “clicks,” and if shallow, “tabloid-y” content does the trick, that’s okay with them. Still some good content and comments on the site, but less than I remember. Many of the best commenters have fled.

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      • Great to see you doing your own blog, Dave! I’m always amazed by how much you’ve read and remembered and the way you can find interesting themes to link books together with.

        I would like to recommend a memoir about the Vietnam War: In Pharaoh’s Army: Memories of the Lost War by Tobias Wolff. It knocked my socks off to see the war so up close, and if you know Tobias Wolff’s writing, you know it will be told very well.

        Thanks so much, Dave, for all the books you’ve let me know about. I now have a file to draw from whenever I’m at a loss re. what to read next. Because of your blog, that actually happens less and less!

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        • Anne, thanks for the VERY kind words about my blog posts! Much appreciated. And it’s great to see a comment from you here! An excellent one, I might add. 🙂

          I haven’t been reading a lot of nonfiction books these days, but did put “In Pharaoh’s Army…” on my list after seeing your comment. That memoir sounds exceptional. Also, any writer who shows the reality of war, rather than a sterile and/or glorified version of it, deserves to be read.

          Thanks again!

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  6. Good Afternoon Dave…great topic and aftermath of wars…no one wins !

    Since I missed this blog I am going to point out something else.
    I just searched for Dave Astor in HP…all the posts are there, then I clicked to the individual blogs starting from Dec 5th then went down streams.Oh the number of comments hundreds of them are there within parentheses.

    BUT…the slate was wiped clean as if the comments and the commentators never existed.
    Not a single post was to be seen.

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    • Thanks for the kind words, bebe, and you’re right — nearly everyone loses in most wars, including civilians who get killed. I suppose arms manufacturers and some politicians “win.”

      Thanks, also, for pointing out what HP unfeelingly did — deleting all the comments under three years of my book columns, including wonderful comments by you and others who now post under this blog. I assume this wipe-out was also done under the past columns of other HP bloggers. Perhaps HP is trying to increase its available bandwidth or something, but it feels like a very cold, corporate decision. Strange to see the number of comments listed, but none of the comments themselves.

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      • Dave…I just looked for Dr. Cara Barker…all wiped clean . She was posting for 5-6 years weekly with so many comments. Just like yourself feels like getting slapped in the face. I feel awful for the unpaid bloggers who did that as a service to enrich the community. Then the commentators like us were there as I was from 2007 we all helped to build the site.
        Oh well…your blog is doing great and thanks for this and inviting us to join.

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        • Such a shame, bebe. As you know, Dr. Cara had tons of heartfelt comments under her blog. It IS like a slap in the face. Would have been nice if HP notified bloggers (the site has their email addresses) before deleting the comments; the comments could have been saved by the bloggers in some way.

          Yes, the commenters built the site, and once they did, HP (and its AOL parent) in effect discarded them. 😦

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      • I looked around my comments at HP– they are still gathered, I had thought, all of them, on my profile page– but I could not find one that was written to be attached to any of your articles, not one, and I looked through several months of them to be sure. I am sorry to lose what I wrote, and sorry for the loss of so many comments by others.

        Doubtless some combo of ineptitude and vindictiveness of the pettiest sort, topped off with no warning to those who would be affected.

        It’s one thing to be driven away from further comment by the necessities of AOL’s data-gathering drive to profit, but to have been erased, as if one were never there, and had contributed nothing is Stalinesque.

        I had been a contributing member since 2005, when there were relatively few news and culture sites online where one might expect to read progressive essays and comment. In a small way, I helped build the building I was thrown out of. A lot of us did. And now, many who once gathered under Astor columns at HP gather here. Thank you, Dave!

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        • Interesting, jhNY. Sounds like they saved some comments and not others? So sorry your great comments attached to my literature columns were deleted, along with the comments of so many others. A LOT of irreplaceable observations and insights were lost — and I’m sure HP and AOL couldn’t care less. As you note, a real erase-history feel to it.

          “Doubtless some combo of ineptitude and vindictiveness of the pettiest sort, topped off with no warning to those who would be affected” — couldn’t have said it better.

          Yes, people like you helped build the site (once progressive, now sort of a strange mix of progressive, tawdry, and reactionary). I think you once used the metaphor of gentrification. The early HP commenters were like the ones who went into distressed neighborhoods, made those neighborhoods appealing enough for the affluent to move in, and then were priced out/pushed out.

          Last but not least, many thanks for the very kind words at the end of your comment! I’m so glad many former HP commenters have gathered here! Just wish I had a way to reach a number of others who commented under my HP columns under aliases and I never corresponded with privately to know their contact info. “threefingerbrown,” “Olderandwiser55,” “giftsthatpurr,” “Porini,” and many more. 😦

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          • Perhaps you can site-search for them in HuffPo by their monikers, then when you find a comment of theirs, click on the moniker attached and you might be able to access their profile and the comments gathered underneath– whichever comments happen to remain. Click on the latest one and reply– with your new blog address….

            I used to read through a few pages of comments by those who I wanted to ‘fan’ in the old days, just to make sure I wasn’t fanning somebody occasionally agreeable but generally not. And that’s how I found them. Might still work….

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            • Thanks for the suggestion, jhNY! I did try that in July with a few people I had conversed with as recently as June or early July, and the result was a mix of success and failure. In the cases of the ones who didn’t reply, I’m guessing they had stopped looking at HP. But I should give that approach one more try with several other people.

              Of course, some profiles were deleted when people left the site, and HP doesn’t publish replies to comments made under posts that are more than two months old. But maybe replying under profiles is an “end around” the two-month thing.

              As for your second paragraph, I used to do the same thing as you before fanning people!

              (By the way, as you probably saw, I posted a new piece today — on enemies in literature.)

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  7. Audie Murphy’s “To Hell and Back” — recounting his WW II experiences which netted him the Congressional Medal of Honor. I believe he also starred in the movie based on his book. And “The Red Badge of Courage” by Stephen Crane about a Union soldier who runs away and then has to deal with his conscience.

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    • Thanks, thepatterer, for naming those two memorable titles! “The Red Badge of Courage” is a great book — and it’s amazing that Stephen Crane wrote it when he was so young. I’ve never read Audie Murphy’s autobiography, but I’ve always heard his name mentioned as among the bravest of the brave during WWII.

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  8. The “Tale of the Heike” is definitely a work of epic scale and reads somewhat similarly to “The Iliad” in which arrogance and pride almost cause most of the events to take place.

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    • Thanks, Eric! I hadn’t heard of “The Tale of the Heike” before, but was impressed with your description and a Wikipedia entry I just read about that epic work after seeing your comment. Not quite as old a work as the 11th-century “Tale of Genji,” but quite old. “Arrogance and pride” — two very combustible qualities when it comes to starting and prolonging wars. 😦

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  9. Before all interest and comment on the the present topic has been exhausted, I would like to recommend Masuji Ibuse’s “Waves”, which is a fictional account of the fall of the Heike to the Genji, itself among the most enduring themes of Japanese literature. The novel is in journal form, written as if by a young man in the Heike clan, and ends, as it must, badly– for the Heike. There are a number of poignant and telling images throughout– a slow-witted servant sent to impersonate his noble master in a duel; a sack of gold dust tied to the pommel of a horse’s saddle ridden by this same noble, now in headlong flight, which has a tiny hole at its bottom, so that,what is most precious to the possessor is dissipated unknowingly as he rides away; horses following a boat containing their masters in low surf, suddenly galloping off, riderless, in the direction of the enemy camp.

    Ibuse is most famous, and justly so, for “Black Rain”, but this short novel is compelling and fascinating to read.

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    • jhNY, another book that sounds REALLY compelling. And the scenes/images you so evocatively describe must be amazing to read.

      Your mention of the Genji reminds me of the nearly-1,000-year-old novel “The Tale of Genji,” but the abridged version I read a few months ago has more romance than fighting. 🙂

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  10. A great topic again Dave. I immediately though of John Jakes’ iconic “North and South” trilogy as well as other books by him like “On Secret Service” and many books in “The Kent Family Chronicles.”

    “On Secret Service” like “North and South” deals with the Civil War. However it spend very little time on the soldiers and most on the spies. Following the story of on such man (and a few other people) he tells the tale of how such people were used during that period in history. I’ve read it a few times now and I always enjoy it.

    “The Kent Family Chronicles” deals with about 100 years of US history and follows members of the family through The Revolutionary War, The War of 1812, The Mexican-American War, and The Civil War. As these are defining events Jakes spends a lot of time on them and you get to see a great number of the battles and major events that occur.

    I’ve also add to my list based on friends recommendations “Outlander” by Diana Gabaldon. Which centers on a WWII combat nurse who just returns home only to be sent back in time to war torn Scotland in 1743. I understand it is now a TV series as well.

    I could include almost every thing by W.E.B. Giffin as war novels also. I haven’t read any but my dad read a couple so I remember a few themes.

    I would also be remiss if I didn’t include Alfred, Lord Tennyson and the poems “Morte D’Arthur” and “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” Both dealing with two different aspects of death in war. The former afterward while trying to set your legacy, the latter of death in combat while following orders.

    I must say you hit upon a very busy topic in books. I could probably name at least ten to twenty more from my own collect that are fiction of some kind without getting into the non-fiction

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    • Thanks, GL, for the great, very inclusive comment! Yes, many books can be named for this topic. And I didn’t even mention James Fenimore Cooper’s treatment of the French-Indian War and Revolutionary War in the five fantastic “Leatherstocking” novels you recommended. 🙂

      Excellent Civil War-novel mentions, and “Outlander” sounds VERY intriguing. Now on my list. I LOVE time-travel novels. (I wrote a post about them soon after I started blogging about literature for HP back in 2011.)

      “The Charge of the Light Brigade” — absolutely! Following (sometimes stupid) orders can be quite hazardous. Given that you’re a poet, you must find “Light Brigade,” “Morte D’Arthur,” and other poems particularly interesting.

      As for your last line, nonfiction books about wars has to be an enormous category!

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      • I remember you mentioning that you like time travel in one of your earlier blogs. I must say, the shear number of people recommending it to me sent me to the library and I reserved the ebook. I’m number 22 or so on the wait list.

        I do like poetry of course, I am absolutely amazed by the variety of ways one can treat war in poems. I have read “Poems” by the early 20th century model Iris Tree, in the collection there is an entire section of poems from 1914-1918 protesting WWI. I was shocked by the similarities to the protest poems of Vietnam and today.

        This also puts me into the fiction category with the surprising number of books that cover things like the Civil War and each one does it so differently. Yet there are similarities which show up whether one is fighting goblins in The Battle of Five Armies or rebels at Antietam.

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        • I wanted to add that not only is time travel an interesting convention to view any type of fictional war situation, but I enjoyed reading alternate history fiction in which, say, the South wins the US Civil War, or Germany is not defeated in WWII, all written by the “master of alternate history”, Harry Turtledove. I especially liked “Guns of the South” in which the South was able to get their hands on AK-47s and defeat the North.

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          • Eric, though I haven’t read much alternate-history fiction, I LOVE the idea of it. Some of my favorite “Star Trek” episodes explored the alternate-timeline concept.

            I checked my to-read list, and see Harry Turtledove there. (Perhaps you mentioned him a number of month ago!) I will look for him during my next library visit. Thanks for mentioning him — and for the great comment!

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        • Yikes, GL, I have a feeling there will probably be a waiting list at my library for “Outlander”! Might have to buy that one. When a book becomes a popular TV series…

          It’s almost too obvious for me to say, but poems indeed contain as wide a variety of subject matter as novels do. Love, friendship, nature, war, etc. — and various treatments of war, from epic verse to protest poetry and so on. Fascinating what you note about the similarity of some anti-WWI and anti-Vietnam War poems. Certainly two wars that many people felt didn’t need to be fought. I imagine there are a lot fewer poems against WWII — which of course was a more “just” war (on the Allies’ side).

          So true — wars (real or fictional) have many differences and many similarities. Same could be said for people, I suppose. 🙂

          I appreciate the excellent comment!

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          • Eric and GL, here’s the link to the time-travel piece I wrote in July 2011: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dave-astor/time-travel-books-top-10_b_905608.html

            Not the greatest blog post (part of it is in list form), but I was just starting to write about books back then. 🙂

            I noticed when looking at it that HP seems to have wiped out all the comments under my posts (and I assume everyone’s older posts). Guess they’re trying to save on bandwidth. VERY upsetting to lose all those great insights from literature lovers. 😦

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            • I am surprised Asimov did not make your list “back then.”. I grew up reading Nightfall, and his other short stories. Though not surprisingly, time travel, for the most part, does not end well in his stories.

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              • I left many works out of that post; it wasn’t the most thorough of columns! I love Asimov’s books and stories, including the ones that have time-travel elements.

                As I might have told you before, I was lucky to meet Asimov back in 1986, when the Los Angeles Times Syndicate held a press event to announce a weekly column by Asimov. Took some photos of him, too, but, alas, I didn’t ask anyone to take a picture of him with me. 😦

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                • I actually had a brief correspondence with him over 6 back-and-forth letters, if I remember correctly, in the mid-70s about writing science fiction which I wanted to do, but was never really good at it.

                  He remained one of my author-heroes, for both his writing ability, and his ability to have more books covering more Dewey Decimal categories than any other writer.

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                  • Fantastic, Eric! It’s great that he took the time to correspond with you, considering how prolific an author he was. I believe he wrote and edited more than 400 books, but I didn’t realize just how wide-ranging they were until reading your Dewey Decimal line. Certainly, he authored a lot more than his superb sci-fi works.

                    I have “The Foundation Trilogy” and “I, Robot” on my bookshelf. Not exactly his most obscure titles. 🙂

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                    • I did once own Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare which i thought was relatively thorough and analytical. “The Gods Themselves,” about an alien civilization living in a parallel universe but needing things from our universe to survive, was my personal favorite.

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                • I was really proud of a photo I had taken with Roger Ebert. We had the greatest conversation about writing movie reviews and this was during the period of his life when he considered himself arrogant and obnoxious. Not sure how I was able to do that.

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                  • That IS a photo to be proud of, Eric. I guess you were able to be photographed with him and converse with him by being your intelligent and friendly self! 🙂

                    Ebert was such a great, great writer about film.

                    I met and talked to him a few times in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, and he definitely mellowed somewhat during the latter years — even before the devastating health problems that eventually robbed him of speech.

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                    • I had asked him him the question, “When you write a movie review, do you first think of writing conventions such as attention-getting statement, background, thesis, and topic sentences, or do you just start writing anything you want about the movie itself?” He had answered that “every writer uses the same conventions of what constitutes good writing. But, as individuals, we each make those conventions unique and special.”

                      I was also surprised that he told me no one asked him that before. He was too busy “defending reviews,” he added.

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                  • Eric, I can’t find a reply button under your latest Asimov comment, so I’m replying here. “The Gods Themselves” sounds GREAT. Will look for it during my next library visit.

                    Asimov on Shakespeare must be a fascinating read!

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                    • Eric, thanks for relating your very interesting exchange with Roger Ebert. You asked him a very thought-provoking question, and got an excellent answer.

                      Great that he complimented you on asking a question no one had asked him before! I guess a lot of movie-review readers are indeed more focused on the films (and their opinions of those films) than on writing techniques.

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          • I thought the same thing about buying it, but then check my yearly book budget and noted that wasn’t going to happen. I’ve already spent more than I allotted and I probably will get another book or two before the end of the year. I’ll save those expenses for author’s I’m collecting.

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            • I hear you, GL! My budget is one of two major reasons that most of the books I read I get from the library. (The other major reason is that I have no more room for books in my apartment!)

              I realize you may have told me this before, but which authors do you collect?

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              • I collect Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. Pratchett has over 60 novels and I only own 20 some. Gaiman has far fewer books published, less thank 20 I think, so he’s been easier to collect. The issue with Gaiman is he also writes comic books and getting “The Sandman” series will be a bit harder.

                Do you collect any authors?

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                • Great to have so many books by those two authors! It’s amazing when any author can write more than 60 books during his or her career; obviously, that’s more than one a year. I can think of only a few writers with that kind of productivity: Isaac Asimov (who’s off the charts), W. Somerset Maugham, and Stephen King among them. There’s also people like James Patterson, but I believe he has an assistant, or more than one assistant, helping him.

                  I own more than one novel by some authors, but don’t collect authors per se. If I did, I suppose some of the ones I would collect include George Eliot and John Steinbeck, to name a couple.

                  Neil Gaiman writing books AND comic books — impressive!

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    • I read the Kent Family Chronicles many years ago and remember enjoying them. But I think being a teenager in Australia means that I had no idea how much of it was historical, and how many of the ‘characters’ were based on real people and real events. I’ve often thought of revisiting Philip and his family, however as the series is 8 chunky books, it would be quite a commitment. But I would be interested in what I might take away from them now, compared to what I took from them 20 years ago.

      I’ve also read the first Outlander book, and though it came highly recommended, (or maybe BECAUSE it was so highly recommended) I was disappointed with it. And if I was describing it, I wouldn’t really say that it involved time travel. More that it had two stories set in different time periods. Though that’s not really accurate either. However, I will say that with the way it’s set up, I can see where future books could absolutely have time travel in them. But first and foremost it’s written as a historical romance.

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      • Thanks for the excellent comment, Susan! I’ve never read “The Kent Family Family Chronicles,” but do remember hearing about it. (I think it was also a movie or TV miniseries?)

        You made an intriguing statement about what you might think of those eight books now vs. 20 years ago. It can be fascinating reading a novel (or series of novels) decades apart and seeing how differently we might feel about the work after having more life experience. Like many people, I don’t have time to reread a lot of novels, but when I do I often feel differently about them. For instance, as we might have possibly discussed before, I liked “Moby-Dick” and “The Scarlet Letter” better the second time around, three decades after the first reading.

        I appreciate your interesting take on the first “Outlander” book. Sorry you were disappointed with it. I do like historical romances AND time-travel novels, so I still might give it a try. But, as always, it’s hard to find time to read everything! 🙂

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  11. An early work by Tolstoy called Sebastopol Sketches about the Crimean War as well as The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendhal were works that questioned the notion that war was glorious and heroic.

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    • Thanks, Jean, for citing books by two terrific authors! Questioning the notion that war is glorious and heroic is very welcome in any novel — especially given how politicians, the military, arms manufacturers, and much of the media often push the narrative of war being…glorious and heroic. (Because of their own self-interests, of course — more profit, etc.)

      Great comment!

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    • I think that “Sebastopol Sketches” is not a work of fiction, but of recollection re Tolstoy’s own military service there– but it’s been a while since I read it….

      Speaking of war’s futilities, in Tolstoy, as in Lermontov’s “A Hero of Our Time”, there are descriptions of 19th century military campaigns by the Russian Empire begun against ethnicities at the margins of Russia that in places like Chechnya, are ongoing.

      “”The Charterhouse of Parma”, I read only a year or so ago, so it’s relatively fresh– therein, at the beginning, is a lengthy description of young Fabrizio’s attempted, but limited participation in battle on the side of the French, for which trouble he was rewarded by having his horse commandeered out from under him by a French general in need, and by being wounded in the leg by a retreating cavalryman, also French. A sort of inglorious introduction to the chaos of war, indeed.

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  12. I think ultimately for fiction dealing with War to be a classic or even worth serious attention it needs to be about things like self fulfillment and meaning or the failure of such. Does any reader actually give a hoot about Napoleon’s army being swallowed up by mother Russia ? It’s the journeys and growth in awareness of Prince Andre , Natasha , and Pierre that make Tolstoy’s work one that will be read forever.
    Robert Olen Butler served in Vietnam as a translator and intelligence officer. His interwoven short story collection A Good Scent on a Strange Mountain is one of the more remarkable works of art to come of the tragic Southeast Asian “police action”. Each of the stories is told by a war refuge living down south in Bayou country. The title piece concerns Dao an old man and family patriarch who lay dying . The war has to some extent followed them as he believes his grandson is involved in a political murder in the local community. As a young man himself Dao had apprenticed under the Chef Escoffier at a hotel in London during WW1. A friend and co worker was the young, blossoming radical Ho Chi Minh. As Dao is flitting in and out of consciousness he is visited by the ghost of his compatriot. Ho appears to him as an old man staring at something on his hands ,perplexed and questioning. During his last apparition Dao divines what is troubling the great leader who managed to defeat the most powerful army in the world…. ” He has used confectioners sugar for his glaze fondant and he should be using granulated. I was only a washer of dishes but I did listen carefully when Monsieur Escoffier spoke. I wanted to understand everything . His kitchen was full of such smells that you knew you had to understand everything or you would be incomplete forever.” I think it clear which of these two may find enlightenment and peace , I also think any fiction that traffics in war must be anti war at some level to be a great work of art or even worth reading.

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    • Excellent points, Donny, about war novels needing to be more than just battle chronicles to be great literature and needing to be antiwar to be truly worthwhile. Of course, there are some “just” wars of necessity, but there should be a reluctant desire to fight those, not rah-rah enthusiasm. Because even “just” wars are full of death, injury, and destruction.

      “A Good Scent on a Strange Mountain” DOES sound remarkable. Thanks for the stellar description of it. Your mention of Ho Chi Minh reminded me that he worked in New York and Boston sometime between 1910 and 1920!

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      • From 1913 to 1919 Ho was in England, mostly the grittier part of London, it’s been claimed for years that he really did work as a pastry cook under Escoffier. As for “just” wars of course ,few would dispute the cause of defeating the Nazis but even so Joseph Heller is the only one to shed a light on the absolute madness, absurdity and horror that pretty much all involved become complicit in.

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        • Yes, England, too! And I believe Ho also worked as a baker at Boston’s Parker House hotel (now the Omni Parker House). I was there for a 2006 conference and that was in the hotel’s literature.

          I agree that even so-called “just” wars are insane, messy, run incompetently, etc. If social media and the 24/7 news cycle had been around during World War II, a lot of negative stuff undoubtedly would have been there to report (if people had the courage to do so).

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          • There is some truth to your point about social media being able to make a difference but to be fair there was some great reporters such as Ernie Pyle covering WW2. It’s also true they could effect things , George Patton in many ways was the most brilliant General we had yet his career stalled after he slapped a convalescing GI in front of the press.

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            • You’re right, Donny. Although much war journalism at the time was unquestioning, and the U.S. was basically on the right side of things during WWII, there was some nuanced coverage.

              Ernie Pyle’s heart was with the “average” soldier, not the generals, and the same could be said for editorial cartoonist Bill Mauldin.

              As you note, the brilliant Patton was a bully and worse. While Eisenhower had his flaws, one would be hard-pressed to think of a U.S. military commander since then who was half the leader Dwight was. Obviously, one doesn’t have to be a near-psychopath to be a great general!

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                • Thanks, Donny! I greatly admire FDR, too (except for acts such as putting Japanese-Americans in camps during WWII). Ike was a Republican, of course, and I’ve never voted for one — but he was the kind of Republican that today’s GOP would practically consider a socialist. For instance, Ike warned again “the military-industrial complex” — horrors! 🙂

                  I realize I’m not saying anything you don’t already know!

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              • Those Mauldin cartoons seemed to get at the heart of an ordinary soldier’s life as well as any bunch of written words alone coming out of that bonfire of humanity. I knew they were special the first time I ran across them as a boy.

                As I was raised to adore Adlai, I could not, as a young fellow anyway, like Ike.

                But, having read the note he wrote in advance of D-Day which he planned to read in the event that the invasion failed, I must say he seems plainly unlike the bland corporate types who seem to be wearing most of the brass these days. In that little note, just a few words long, he manages to shoulder all blame, and praise the bravery and sacrifice of his troops unreservedly. I admire him for it– also unreservedly.

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                • jhNY, Bill Mauldin indeed brilliantly showed the lives of ordinary soldiers in his “Willie and Joe” cartoons, and, as you know, he was only in his early 20s when drawing them!

                  I got to meet and talk to Mauldin a few times in the 1980s and 1990s. A real cantankerous, abrasive sort, but a great believer in justice and liberalism.

                  I hear you about Eisenhower. He was no liberal, for the most part, but he seemed to have a decent/modest/take-responsibility streak. And few generals would have made sense as Columbia University’s president, which he was before winning the White House over the very admirable Adlai Stevenson.

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                  • I would have liked to have met the man, one of my three favorite cartoonists when I was a boy– Walt Kelly, another, but he was dead before I left school, the last being Herblock, who, I did have the good fortune to meet.

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                    • Three great cartoonist favorites!

                      I never met Walt Kelly, either, but did meet his widow Selby once — in 1986, I think. I met Herblock perhaps three or four times at cartoon conferences; I have a photo I took of him (in 1992) I’ll send you after I post this comment.

                      When and where did you meet Herblock? What were your impressions?

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                  • Eisenhower voted Democrat for most of his life, converting to the GOP, if I remember right, only after the war.

                    The thread is maxed, so I’ll answer re Herblock here: I worked for the Washington Post during the Watergate period, as a lowly copy boy, eventually managing to break into print writing pop music criticism. Every Friday, Katherine Graham had a small cart of liquor and mixers sent to Mr. Block by way of gratitude for making another week’s worth of deadlines, and he, shortly after, emerged from his desk a bit convivialized. I met him then, I think, the first time being the fellow who pushed the cart. He would also emerge occasionally with a sketch in hand, hoping to bounce it off somebody he could trust to know a good idea. Sadly, his idea of who that might be did not seem to encompass copy boys.

                    I did meet and drink with a drinking buddy of Walt Kelly’s– Joe Mastrangelo, also a Post staffer– but that’s as close as I got.

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                    • Did not know about Eisenhower voting Democratic for many years! Guess he went the Reagan route before Reagan, though nowhere near as right-wing as “The Gipper.”

                      Ah, yes, I remember you describing your time at The Washington Post! Not surprising you would meet Herblock there. Well told — the cart, the copy boys, etc.

                      Hard to believe Herblock was at the Post for 55 years, yet still had a career before that at the Chicago Daily News and the Newspaper Enterprise Association syndicate.

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  13. Eric, looks like our thread did max out, so I’m replying up here.

    You wrote: “Scott’s backdrop of the Third Crusade along with the Saxons and Normans adds an aspect of romanticized war.”

    My reply: “Yes, Scott did romanticize war at times (which I believe was one reason why Twain disliked Sir Walter’s work). Of course, many other novelists have romanticized war, too.

    Scott did make 12th-century England fairly believable in “Ivanhoe.” He sanitized things to an extent, but some of his characters were no-holds-barred cruel. Scott also dealt interestingly with his Jewish characters — Rebecca was admirable and mostly non-stereotypical, while her father Isaac made a reader cringe.

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      • I think you’re right, Eric. Even though Isaac’s persona was hard to take, Walter Scott was probably showing that anti-Semitic society, limited opportunities, and so on helped make him what he was.

        Couldn’t have been easy for Scott to depict a society 700 years in his past. As you know, his other historical novels didn’t go back that far, though they did have various centuries as settings.

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          • Reverse psychology again? 🙂

            As much as I liked “Ivanhoe,” I liked several of Scott’s other novels as much or more — including”Old Mortality” (mentioned in my post), “The Heart of Midlothian,” and “Quentin Durward,” to name three.

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            • I did read Rob Roy, who doesn’t actually enter the book until maybe the latter half, and, for ‘The Heart of Midlothian”, I skipped over some of the incomprehensible dialogue and had to go back over it when I had more time to use a few glossaries and appendices.

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              • You’re absolutely right, Eric, that “Rob Roy” is misnamed in a way. The book is really more about Francis Osbaldistone. (What a last name!) The 1990s “Rob Roy” movie featured the title character more than the novel did.

                “The Heart of Midlothian” did have some murky dialogue for the modern reader, but I found Jeanie Deans’ story (and journey) quite affecting.

                Authors can be TOO “authentic” with dialogue. Even the clear-writing George Eliot could be hard to understand here and there when she had some of her characters use rural dialogue.

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    • Twain, from “Life On the Mississippi”:
      “Then comes Walter Scott with his enchantments, and by his single might checks this wave of progress, and even turns it back; sets the world in love with dreams and phantoms; with decayed and swinish forms of religion; with decayed and degraded systems of government; with the sillinesses and emptinesses, sham grandeurs, and sham chivalries of a brainless and worthless long-vanished society. He did measureless harm; more real and lasting harm, perhaps, than any other individual that ever wrote. Most of the world has outlived a good part of these harms, …but in our South they flourish pretty forcefully still… There… nineteenth century life is curiously confused and commingles with the Walter Scott Middle-Age sham civilization; and so you have …progressive ideas …mixed up with the duel, the inflated speech, and the jejune romanticism of an absurd past that is dead , and out of charity ought to be buried. But for the Sir Walter disease, the character of the Southern…would be wholly modern, in place of modern and medieval mixed, and the South would be fully a generation further advanced than it is…
      Sir Walter had so large a hand in making Southern character as it existed before the war that he is in great measure responsible for the war. It seems a little harsh toward a dead man to say that we should never have had any war but for Sir Walter; and yet something of a plausible argument might, perhaps, be made in support of that wild proposition.”

      Also for readers interested in another order of Scott-bashing, see William Hazlitt, who managed, rhetorically at least, to praise Scott the novelist from an enthusiast’s vantage point of real working intimacy with a great many of his works, while loathing the man’s contemporary politics utterly.

      Want more? I’ve got a little bit of sumpin’ by Flaubert….

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      • Sure! I didn’t know Flaubert wrote about Scott, too.

        Wow — Twain could write! (My most obvious statement of the year.) He makes some good points about Scott, and I realize he’s exaggerating to great effect. But there were obviously MANY more important factors than Scott’s writing that made the Antebellum South the monstrous place it was. I’ve read/enjoyed eight or so of Scott’s novels, and Edgar Johnson’s massive biography of him, and don’t think Scott deserves all the scorn heaped on him by Twain.

        Scott did have royalist tendencies — he LOVED getting the “Sir” in front of his name, and the home he had built is as big as a king’s castle — but I can’t believe he strongly approved of the Antebellum South. (I just saw the “12 Years a Slave” movie, by the way. Fantastic and harrowing.)

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        • I doubt Scott much approved of the antebellum South either– but he did provide it with much disastrous dream-fodder, if Twain is to be believed even a little.

          The monstrousness of the South provided the capital underpinnings for the new republic, as it had the export produce– tobacco, rice, cotton and sugar– for which Europe paid gold. It is literally impossible to imagine the shape and dynamism of the early United States without this capital, however unsettling the source. Further, the major battles of our revolution– or rather, those which the revolutionaries won– were mostly fought in what would become the Confederate states. The greatest capital investment in the US in 1860– greater than the capital tied up in railroads or manufacturing– was in slave labor, for which, the possessors were dispossessed without compensation. It remains the greatest liquidation of investment in American history. And nullification– that hated unConstitutional notion advanced by John C. Calhoun– is there any more pervasive example to be found than in Northern doings after the Dred Scott decision?

          The story of slavery’s demise and its uses before it become conveniently and irretrievably immoral is complicated and mostly rewritten to the advantage of the victors. “The World the Slaves Built” is a powerful book with a powerful title, which implies something that few understand: the whole she-bang, North and South, East and West, owes much more to slavery than has been often acknowledged. For which neither slaves nor their masters were adequately compensated nor recognized.

          Lincoln was by far the most radical president in our history, and his ugly death has put a great light all around him that is mostly blinding, and only somewhat illuminating. Likewise the great bloodletting that was our Civil War– why people fought exactly and for what– remains troubling and euphemised business that finds its way into our politics today.

          Did not mean to direct all this at you, Dave, but these thoughts have been rolling around in the vast expanse of my head, evidently, for too long, and wanted out.

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          • Exceptionally learned thoughts and insights, jhNY, on slavery, the Civil War, Lincoln, and more.

            The U.S. was indeed largely built on the backs of slaves, and they and their descendants were and never will be compensated for even a tiny fraction what they’re owed. Funny, I’ve never thought about slave masters going uncompensated, but the way I look at it is they made out like bandits until the Civil War and acted immorally to boot, so tough on them. 🙂

            “Dream-fodder” — now that’s a tremendous and evocative phrase!

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            • My point is: the entire nation benefited from slavery, not just slave holders, and slaves were property under US law– however awful that legal definition seems now– property for which its owners and investors received no compensation, despite slavery being the greatest single category of investment in the US in 1860. I do agree that the descendants of slaves have never and are unlikely ever to be ‘compensated for even a tiny fraction of what they’re owed’, but we should have tried harder than we did, and try harder than we will.

              Moral imperatives which sweep petty obligations like compensation for the dispossessed aside remain the source of much trouble around the world….

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              • I see what you’re saying, jhNY. What a world when economies get built that way.

                As far as compensation goes, Germany certainly did a lot better with the Jewish people after the Nazi era than the U.S. ever did with African-Americans after the slavery era.

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                • And yet, should have been made to do vastly more, so great was their crime– had the Palestinians been paid fair value by Germany for the land they lost, for example, the world might today be a very different place. The Cold War had other imperatives.

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                  • Very true, jhNY. There are few peoples in history given as raw a deal as the Palestinians.

                    As for the Cold War, there have certainly been many novels that allude to it — “The Book of Daniel” by E.L. Doctorow, “Underworld” by Don DeLillo, various Tom Clancy books, etc.

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        • To be fair, this is more a generalization about books written by Scott imitators, but still:

          “It was all loves and lovers, damsels in distress swooning in lonely lodges, postillions slain all along the road, horses ridden to death on every page, dark forests, heart-aches, solemn oaths, sobs, tears and kisses, moonlight boat-rides, nightingales in the groves, gentlemen brave as lions, gentle as lambs, too virtuous to be true, always impeccably dressed, who wept like fountains.”– from “Madame Bovary”, Flaubert

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          • I guess it’s been VERY long since I read “Madame Bovary,” because I forgot that amazing passage. Certainly some truth in those words about Scott (and especially his imitators), but he did write a number of not-romanticized scenes and create a few strong heroines who were more than damsels in distress. Jeanie Deans was one, and Rob Roy’s wife Helen was another, to name two.

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  14. Elsa Morante’s “History”, the life of a simple Italian woman raped by a German soldier, and their son, bracketed by world new items of the Second World War period, is powerfully written and affecting– the story of a pebble from which the camera periodically zooms away so as to take in the beach, the coast, the continent…. The book deserves a larger readership among the English-speaking. Especially moving, though there are many moving parts: the freezing death of a wounded Italian soldier on the Eastern Front, USSR, in winter.

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    • Sounds like an intense, sad, compelling novel. (And it has 26 five-star ratings and 3 four-star ratings in 29 Amazon reviews, for whatever that’s worth.) Now on my list. Thanks for mentioning it, jhNY, and for describing it with your usual flair!

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      • Speaking of Amazon reviews, one of the few that I wrote related to the autobiographical account of Operation Redwings, the failed US Navy Seal mission involving Marcus Luttrell, one of the co-authors. I had read others including “The Adam Brown Story”, which I thought was more compelling than “Lone Survivor.” “Lone Survivor” just raised far too many questions than it answered. There are many, almost too many, brave accounts of soldiers facing off far more in numbers than themselves in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. And that got me thinking again of “The Charge of the Light Brigade” by Tennyson.

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        • Eric, I haven’t written many Amazon reviews myself. I mainly do them if I read a book by someone I know, and my rule of thumb is to write a positive review if I like the book and to write no review if I don’t like it. Just one example of how Amazon reviews should often be taken with a grain of salt.

          But it sounds like you had an excellent reason for writing your review. War writing (like war itself) can indeed be rife with exaggeration, overconfidence, stupidity, etc.

          Thanks for your thought-provoking comment!

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          • I thought of that after I read jhNy’s comment about “History,” which I had gotten to from a short story which was in an anthology of literature and mentioned her novel as her most eponymous works. Now, I have no idea what thread I am writing in….

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            • Well, you seem to be in the right thread to me! 🙂

              Eric, you hit upon an important, interesting point: How we learn about literary works, and jump from one to another, can often be very serendipitous.

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              • That is especially true, as I look back through one of our literature books right now and I see everything from excerpts from Voltaire’s “Candide” (with a part about war included to the short story “The Things they Carried” by O’Brien.

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                  • I read “Ivanhoe” after Walter Scott was mentioned in “Huck Finn” and our teacher (wisely) told us of a book that Walter Scott wrote that included the Robin Hood legend and was too long for any of us to read. I hated reverse psychology from my teachers.

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                    • Eric, I loved your deadpan line about reverse psychology from teachers. 🙂

                      I had forgotten Walter Scott was mentioned in Twain’s book. (I realize Twain wasn’t a Scott fan.) Sir Walter was mentioned more positively in at least one Jane Austen novel — might have been “Emma.” I sometimes forget just how big Scott was in the 19th century, before and after his 1832 death. “Ivanhoe” is a terrific novel.

                      If this great thread continues to the point of maxing out, I’ll reply at the top of the comments area.

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                    • For some reason I cannot even guess at, in Nashville TN in 1962, my 6th grade teacher took it upon herself to read aloud to us daily– “Ivanhoe”, the bloodthirstiness of which surprised her audience, and seemingly, herself. It was not one of several books she read to us– it was the only one. And it took quite the little while.

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      • Thanks, Eric! Second rave review of that book! DEFINITELY on my list. My monthly library visit is tomorrow, and I’ll see if “History” is there (along with other novels mentioned under this post and previous posts!).

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        • Will definitely get back to you, jhNY. It’s a long novel, and I’m not sure if it will be the next book I read, but I plan to finish it no later than a month from now. I’m looking forward to it!

          As for your teacher-reading-“Ivanhoe” comment, I can’t find a reply button there. (Perhaps the thread got long enough to max out.) But it IS quite shocking for that particular novel to be read. As you say, rather violent and bloody in parts. Some kids in your class undoubtedly had 20th-century nightmares about the 12th century. 🙂

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  15. I also have read more fictional war novels (‘Lord of the Rings’/Harry Potter/’Song of Ice and Fire’) than historical novels depicting any of this realm’s wars. This is another fortuitous post, Dave, as I have been researching a bit about World War I for a 100th anniversary film series at my library. I read two novels which were adapted into two of the films that I showed–‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ and ‘Paths of Glory’. This isn’t necessarily a plug for my book reviews but here’s the Amazon link to my reviews with both of those appearing among the books I reviewed in July or early August:

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/cdp/member-reviews/A3CTG6DK620Z0C/ref=cm_cr_pr_auth_rev?ie=UTF8&sort_by=MostRecentReview

    I have read ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ and ‘Catch-22′ as well as James Jones’ ‘From Here to Eternity’ which actually occurs just on the cusp of the attack on Pearl Harbor. I haven’t read most of the other books you cited although another Mark Twain story that deals with war is his short story, “The Private History of a Campaign That Failed’ derived primarily from his two weeks with the Confederate Army. It’s been a few years since I read that one but I suspect it’s infused with more of his tall tale humor than the bitterness of much of his last writing (such as “The War Prayer”). I’m not sure why I’ve avoided war novels. Some are obviously more powerful than others. I can, however, unequivocally recommend ‘All Quiet…’ and ‘Paths of Glory’ and will more than likely read more of Erich Maria Remarque.

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    • Thanks, bobess48, for the wide-ranging comment and for the link! Your reviews — of “All Quiet on the Western Front,” “Middlemarch,” and many other books — are magnificent. Your film series sounds great, too.

      Novels depicting fictional wars rather than real-life ones are fascinating. While the emotions of the participants in either type of conflict are similar (as I noted in my column), authors of made-up battles have to create the battles from scratch. Not easy. Of course, writers of historical novels have the burden of being extra cautious about getting the basic facts of a war correct even as they partly fictionalize things.

      Glad you mentioned “From Here to Eternity,” which I’d like to read one day and is certainly up there when it comes to evocative titles!

      Like you, I haven’t read a huge number of war novels. The ones I mentioned in my post are a combination of those I’ve read recently and others I’ve read years or decades ago. War is not my favorite topic for novels, but some war novels are obviously well worth the painful reading experience.

      I highly recommend the non-“All Quiet” novels I mentioned in the post, but “Spark of Life” is so horrific that “A Time to Love…” or “Arch of Triumph” or “The Night in Lisbon” might be read instead of “Spark…” All three are masterfully written — and pack a BIG emotional wallop.

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  16. You are a strong man, Dave. I started to read “The Postmistress,” by Sarah Blake. It is beautifully written and draws the reader in, totally. But when the bombs started dropping, I couldn’t read on. Too scary, too sad. Maybe it has to do with my dad and brother being disabled veterans – I can’t go there. I know I miss a lot of good books because of that. But then, there’s never enough time to read all the good books, anyway, huh?! Great column!

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    • Cathy, very sorry about your father and brother. That does hit home — painfully — and I can understand why certain novels would be hard for you to take. Also, as you say, there are so many books out there and so little time that there are always other, less-downbeat ones to read.

      Many of the books I mentioned in my post were heartbreaking to read — and made me feel melancholy for hours or days, even as I admired them.

      Glad you liked the column despite the subject matter!

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  17. The big ‘uns seem to have been covered here already, so I’ll write up a couple of the less-read– but “A Farewell To Arms” rates a mention, and for those who haven’t read it, it isn’t the autobiography of Venus de Milo.

    Hopefully, in the coming weeks there will be no Astor columns which inspire me to dredge up poor Joseph Roth for the umpti-umph time, but this one ain’t one….

    “The Radetsky March” by Joseph Roth follows the lives and fortunes of three generations of the Trotta, family, beginning with a reflexive, deemed heroic act by “the Hero of Solferino”, the Trotta involved having taken a bullet for the Emperor Franz Joseph during a battle in the Italian Second War of Independence. The novel closes with the deaths of the last Trotta in the line,(killed as he attempts to draw water from a well for his parched troops at the outset of WWI), the Emperor, and last, the son of the Hero of Solferino. The fortunes of the Trottas and the duration of the empire itself are spanned and defined by the long reign of Franz Joseph, last emperor of the Dual Monarchy.

    “The Emperor’s Tomb” by Roth is a sort of follow-up, the tale told by a Trotta cousin to the Solferino Trottas, exploring the mind-set of a class, and recounting a cherished cosmopolitanism that died at the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, itself dying mostly in the field of battle before being given the death blow at Versailles. The First World War in Roth’s work is most of all portrayed as a calamitous bonfire, set by fools and fed by the destruction of privilege, aesthetics, order and security.

    Endo’s “The Sea and Poison” is a Japanese post-war novel ostensibly set in rural Japan, but its major protagonist is a doctor who has moved away from his past to practice in obscurity after performing surgical experiments on downed American fliers. Most of the novel concerns these experiments and those who performed them. Haunting stuff.

    Celine’s “Journey to the End of the Night”, his first novel, though it is not a war novel per se, has many unforgettable First World War scenes of futile destruction, most memorably one in which a particularly punctilious officer is deprived, out of the blue, of his head by a stray artillery shell as he stands in the middle of a road.

    Finally, “The Good Soldier Schweik, by Hasek, a Czech writer, recounts the hapless exploits of a wily smalltown loafer-type pressed into the business of soldiering for the Austro-Hungarian Empire by the political dictates of the First World War,as he resists and ultimately proves impervious to discipline and regulation. Send-ups of military types– army chaplains, non-coms and the officer corp generally– have made this book a favorite of military ironists for generations.

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    • “‘A Farewell To Arms’ rates a mention, and for those who haven’t read it, it isn’t the autobiography of Venus de Milo” — LOL!

      Thanks, jhNY, for all the mentions of books not mentioned before, and the superb summaries of each. The two Joseph Roth novels sound great (both still on my to-read list) and any literary work that rightly calls WWI what it was — senseless — is okay in my “book.”

      “The Good Soldier…” also sounds excellent, and I love the phrase “military ironists.”

      As for your comment in general, “well said” would be an understatement!

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      • “The Good Soldier Schweik” was beloved by my young father, a veteran elsewhere and in another war. In his later years, his enthusiasm has waned a bit– but then, he is that much further away from army life, and a transplanted Austrian upbringing.

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        • Interesting how one’s feelings about a book can change, depending on internal and/or external factors.

          My father was a WWII Navy veteran, but I have no memory of him talking about the war, I don’t think he saw much action, and he wasn’t much of a book reader. So, no literature-related war memories or war-related literature memories there!

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          • Funny thing, though I guess there might have been other signs had he been through much action, but the two men I knew who had seen the most– one in the Battle of the Bulge, the other at Iwo Jima– seldom talked about it– until they were old, and even then, not much, given all they might be expected to have said.

            “Interesting how one’s feelings about a book can change, depending on internal and/or external factors.”
            It’s like the old saying: ars brevis, vita longa. Or versa vica.

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            • Yes, “still waters (can) run deep,” and some very brave people don’t blow their own horns. But I seem to remember a family member or an extended family member or two (of my father’s generation) saying he hadn’t seen much action.

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  18. Howdy, Dave!

    — What are your favorite novels, or other literary works, with war themes? —

    Bearing in mind my belief Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi may have been the greatest political leader in the history of this world, I think two of my favorite poems with war themes — centered on the Vietnam War in each case — are Robert Bly’s “Counting Small-Boned Bodies” and “The Teeth Mother Naked at Last.” Translating Edgar Allan Poe’s dictum of the single effect from short fiction to poetry, I greatly prefer the former poem to the latter one on the page. And, in the olden days, Bly would pull out all the stops while reading it in public (i.e., with that mask and that voice).

    Chilling, really.

    J.J. (Alias MugRuith1)

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    • J.J., I just read those two antiwar poems for the first time after seeing your comment. Both are powerful, but I agree that the brevity of the first one gives it more of a visceral impact — even though the second poem is more graphic in its imagery.

      Thanks for mentioning both poems and their writer, and for another of your always-interesting comments!

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  19. Having muddled through the five volumes of the continuing Game of Thrones novels I’m hard pressed to recall writing as graphically bloody, brutal and cruel, and that’s just for the sex scenes, the endless war ,battle and battle’s aftermath stuff is quite nasty also.

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    • Terrific punch line, Donny!

      I haven’t seen the “Game of Thrones” series or read the books, but they’re certainly popular (and, to an extent, controversial).

      George R.R. Martin attended Northwestern University in Illinois, and I’m glad his novels espouse Midwestern values. 🙂

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          • I don’t read much fantasy but the ‘Song of Ice and Fire’/’Game of Thrones’ books are gripping and vivid and possess more gritty realism (for a fantasy series, that may be an odd thing to say) than ‘Lord of the Rings’ or masses of other epics of the sword and sorcery/dungeons and dragons genre. They’re actually more like an alternate world medieval history chronicle. Martin certainly knows how to hook a reader and the depth of characterization is quite impressive. You definitely live inside these character’s heads and often through their bodies. Definitely worth the time and effort.

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            • Thanks for your excellent comment, Brian, and for convincingly describing the appeal of George R.R. Martin’s series.

              I’ve thought of reading the series, but have been hesitant to do so in case I get hooked and need to polish off every book — taking away time from reading more of a variety of authors. If I ever retire, it might be just the thing to read first!

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              • I’m reading them sandwiched between a few other books. I told you a few months ago that I was going to read the next volumes in between George Eliot’s novels (George vs. George so to speak). I re-read ‘MIddlemarch,’ then those two war novels (‘All Quiet…’, ‘Paths of Glory’), then ‘A Feast for Crows,’ the fourth volume. I had read the first book last December, read some James Bond novels, then the second, a couple of others, then the third…

                I am reading Joseph Campbell’s ‘Myths to Live By’ now, then hopefully Eliot’s ‘Daniel Deronda,’ then the fifth ‘Ice and Fire’ book–‘A Dance with Dragons’. Altogether I should have read the five books over the course of a year, in plenty of time for him to publish his sixth, ‘The Winds of Winter,’ which he’s hard at work at now, and said he will not be contributing the script of an episode for the next season of the HBO series. He’ll get it done when he can. I respect his dedication and desire to maintain the integrity of the story. You can’t do a rush job on something that complex. Anyway, that’s about half of one year interspersed with other books for me.

                On the other hand, from June to November of 1999 I read nothing (other than New Yorker stories and articles; I had a subscription at that time) but volumes of Proust’s ‘Remembrance of Things Past’/’In Search of Lost Time’. I think I finished that one on the Monday before Thanksgiving. Now THAT required some intensive effort! ‘Ice and Fire’ is a light, breezy read in comparison.

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                • Great point — one does not have to read a series consecutively. You’ve read a great variety of things during your George R.R. Martin odyssey. I recently read all five novels in James Fenimore Cooper’s “Leatherstocking” series, but interspersed about 10 other books amid that quintet.

                  Yes, one has to admire an author who doesn’t write faster than he or she should to meet fan demand. J.K. Rowling took two or three years apiece to pen the last three of her seven “Harry Potter” books.

                  I remember hearing about your Proust immersion! Very impressive! I agree that almost anything would seem easy after that. 🙂

                  Can’t wait to hear your thoughts about “Daniel Deronda”! That novel has reverberated around my brain after I read it more than “Middlemarch” has after I read it.

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  20. Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead?

    Vonnegut, Heller. With their two refrains….”So it goes…” and “Oh well what the hell,” respectively, which seem to be saying the same thing.

    MASH was a novel that inspired the film MASH (1970) and TV series (1972-83). It was written as a collaboration with the pen name “Richard Hooker.” It was originally published in 1968. Ah, Frank Burns, the nitwit surgeon you love to hate. In the series, he asks Trapper John, “Why do people take an instant dislike to me?” The reply: “It saves time, Frank.” Best insult ever.

    Also interesting is a short story by Philip Roth called “Defender of the Faith,” which does not take place in a war, but shows two main characters, one emerging from the European theater in WWII and another heading for the Pacific and how their interactions lead to one’s outcome.

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    • “The Naked and the Dead” — definitely! I haven’t read it, but have heard lots about it, and it certainly launched Mailer’s career as a famous author.

      Like you, I sometimes think of “Slaughterhouse-Five” and “Catch-22” in tandem. Many similarities, many differences. I just realized they both have numbers in their titles! (Well, I suppose I’ve always realized it subliminally.)

      I didn’t know “MASH” was a novel before it was a film and TV series! One of those books that got “out-famed” by its subsequent screen productions.

      “‘Why do people take an instant dislike to me?’ The reply: ‘It saves time, Frank.'” — love it! You might be right about it being the best insult ever.

      Last but not least, Joe, thanks for mentioning that Philip Roth short story (which sounds exceptional) and for your great comment in general!

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    • I think Ed Sanders was inspired to name his seminal chaos folk music band The Fugs thanks to Mailer’s idiosyncratic way of writing one thing when he meant another in “The Naked and the Dead”…

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      • Interesting info, jhNY. Thanks!

        Of course, perhaps the most famous example of a rock band name with a literary pedigree is The Doors (after Aldous Huxley’s nonfiction work “The Doors of Perception”).

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        • Read it young; still have someplace, the little edition that once laid on the bedside tables of a zillion nascent hippies in 1967– my present copy is a replacement of my first, which probably got left in a box in an attic of a house I rented with my band…

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          • I’m impressed that you have a background in music (I know we discussed that background back at HP — whose initials could also stand for House (of) Pain).

            I’ve never read Huxley’s “The Doors…,” but have read four of his excellent novels — “Point Counter Point,” “Antic Hay,” and “Island” — all very different from “Brave New World.”

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            • Re paragraph 1: What is the law? Ever read the Wells novel? It opens very well, promising much, but turns into something smaller. I think the movie is more profound and unsettling. But then, I am a huge Lugosi fan, and believe he improves every script to which he is attached.

              Apart from “Brave New World”, I’ve read nothing else. And that was in high school. I know he deserves more attention than I have given him. My wife was particularly taken with “The Devils of Loudun”, but I never cracked it– besides it’s not a work of fiction…. Which of the novels you have read is your favorite?

              Perhaps you are unaware, as I was, that Huxley is one of the credited screenwriters for the 1940’s production of “Jane Eyre”, starring Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles.

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              • Actually, that was an inadvertent reference on my part to the movie “Island of Lost Souls — House of Pain.” I’ve never seen it, but, like you, I’m a fan of Bela Lugosi. Thanks for describing the film!

                I read “The Island of Dr. Moreau” many years ago and have forgotten most of it. Did recently read H.G. Wells’ “The First Men in the Moon” and reread “The Time Machine.” Enthralled with both.

                As for Aldous Huxley, my favorite of his (other than “Brave New World”) is “Point Counter Point.” It’s like a Victorian society novel with a modern sheen, and very readable. Some characters are thinly disguised versions of real people such as leftist heiress Nancy Cunard.

                Vaguely knew about Huxley’s “Jane Eyre” connection. Wow! 🙂

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                • Will keep a lookout for “Point Counter Point”!

                  Re “The Island of Lost Souls”:

                  Charles Laughton and Bela Lugosi together, I think for the only time– plus a bit of a tour de force in the make-up dept.- bet you’d think your time well-spent should you see it… makes you think at least a few Brits had, by the time the book was written, become very tired of the white man’s burden, and thus had turned despondent and morose over the whole bringing civilization to the dark places thingy. Unsettling because it seems to blame the natives for not being up to the task of learning and living humanity and progress as much as it blames the horrific acts and goals of the forces the doctor represents.

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                  • If you do read that Huxley novel, let me know what you think!

                    Fascinating possible subtext to that movie, fascinatingly laid out by you. H.G. Wells certainly imbued his amazing run of late-19th-century/early-20th-century science-fiction novels with social and political meanings beyond the sci-fi elements.

                    I mentioned this in a HP post many moons ago, but if you ever want to hear Wells speak, there’s a radio show with him and Orson Welles available on YouTube that discusses “The War of the Worlds” (of course) and includes a mention of the not-yet-released “Citizen Kane.” (I realize you may have heard it already!)

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  21. Dave, I don’t have too much to add as my favorites have already been noted by you and others, such as “All Quiet on the Western Front,” “Catch-22,” “Slaughterhouse-Five,” and “The Iliad.” My favorite of all is “War and Peace.” I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that I signed up for a course on Tolstoy in college, because it seemed the only way I would be able to force myself to read it. It was well worth it, as I loved it and it also exposed me to other great works by this great author.

    As I was reading ericpollack’s comment regarding poems about war, I was reminded of a slim illustrated paperback I’d bought back around the same time I read most of the above books. It’s a prose poem written by Mark Twain, called “The War Prayer,” and he told a friend that it could only be published after he died, because it was extremely anti-war and he was told it would be viewed as “sacrilege.” I had forgotten all about it, so thanks to you and Eric for making me think to dig through my shelves to find it again.

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    • Still wondering how I forgot to mention “War and Peace,” but very happy YOU mentioned it. Having a spur to read a novel that long (such as taking a course in college) definitely helps! I’ve read a number of very long novels on my own (most recently “The Brothers Karamazov” and “Middlemarch”) but I’m nervous about it in the beginning until I get absorbed in the story!

      Also, thanks so much for mentioning Mark Twain’s “The War Prayer.” I knew Twain was antiwar (much of “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” shows that) and I was aware that Twain wrote some stuff that he (and his wife) felt would be better for posthumous release, but I hadn’t heard of “The War Prayer.”

      Excellent comment, Kat Lib. Thank you!

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    • Kat Lib, I forgot to mention: I’m currently in the middle of reading “Strong Poison” by Dorothy Sayers, who you and littleprincess recommended a few weeks ago. “Strong Poison” is an excellent mystery with very distinctive characters (Lord Peter Wimsey, Harriet Vane, Bunter, etc.). Thanks for encouraging me to read Sayers for the first time. Of course, I’m “dying” to know whodunnit. 🙂 Will find out in 161 pages…

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      • I’m glad that you like “Strong Poison” so far and the characters. I must admit that Harriet Vane is probably my favorite woman character of all (at least of the mystery genre). Hope you continue to enjoy it.

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        • Wow, Kat Lib, that’s high praise for Harriet Vane! So far, she doesn’t appear in “Strong Poison” nearly as much Lord Peter Wimsey, but she’s a very vivid character when she does appear — and I assume she’ll have a bigger role as the book and the series go on.

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          • Yes, absolutely. She’s a major character in most, but not all, the remaining Lord Peter mysteries. In fact, in at least one she doesn’t appear at all. I think I read at some point that she (Dorothy Sayers) was in love with her Lord Peter character and saw herself as Harriet Vane. Harriet is a strong, intelligent, educated, somewhat Bohemian character,who also wrote detective stories, as did Ms. Sayers. I picture them both as the characters who appeared in “The Dorothy L.Sayers Mysteries,” on BBC, which featured Harriet Walter and Edward Petherbridge as the couple.

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            • Thanks for all the interesting information, Kat Lib! It’s good to know I’ll see more of Harriet Vane — who indeed seems very honest, brainy, offbeat, independent, and more. Also, as you note, a mystery author!

              It’s fascinating how (real-life) authors can see themselves in a certain character and see themselves loving a certain character. Not so surprising, considering how much of themselves authors often put into their novels and their novels’ characters. I once read “Peanuts” cartoonist Charles M. Schulz (who the public identified mostly with Charlie Brown) saying there was part of him in every one of his comic’s characters: Snoopy, Lucy, Linus, etc.

              The BBC series you mentioned sounds great!

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            • Kat Lib, I just finished “Strong Poison.” Excellent! I found it interesting that it’s one of those mysteries in which there aren’t a lot of suspects. One knows fairly early on who the murderer is; the question is how the person did it, whether that person will be caught, etc. The method of the murder was very ingenious on Sayers’ part, though I must admit that as clueless as I usually am with mysteries, I did notice that egg thing! 🙂 I was also impressed with the intelligence, resourcefulness, and grace under pressure of the women Lord Peter Wimsey had help him gather clues and evidence.

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  22. War in literature is one of those expansive topics covering multiple ages, genres, and both prose and verse. My favorite book when I was in school was Johnny Tremain, a coming of age story of a young boy who changes for the better, which introduced me to the Revolutionary War. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow reinforced the “excitement” of war. But, until I read Crane’s “Red Badge of Courage”, no one in my class liked war after that.

    I think I read just as much poetry about war than I have read novels if you include “The Iliad” and Shakespeare’s works of “Macbeth”, “Henry V”, and so many other plays. “Charge of the Light Brigade” by Tennyson, gives both praise of serving one’s country along with the horrors of war on an equal footing. “Dulce Et Decorum Est” by Owen is always anthologized in all of our books. That poem definitely brings home the pain of war. Tolstoy had a masterpiece with “War and Peace,” and “Catch 22” by Heller gives it a more dramatic fashion. So many are going through my head right now, I think it will stop spinning in a few moments….

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    • Thank you for the excellent comment, Eric!

      War in literature is indeed a very expansive topic, and I also remember “Johnny Tremain” as a kid. Telling the Revolutionary War from the perspective of a boy was inspired, even though that compelling novel was sanitized to a great degree.

      “The Red Badge of Courage” DOES give readers a jolt of war-is-hell reality after some books that make war seem more exciting than horrific.

      Very glad you mentioned plays and poetry about war, along with some memorable specific titles in those areas. And “War and Peace” — of course! Sort of stunned I forgot to mention that one. 🙂

      Yes, so many titles in this topic area…

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  23. The two novels with wartime themes that immediately popped into my head are Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With The Wind” and Boris Pasternak’s “Doctor Zhivago”. Both are sweeping novels spanning the years of the Civil War and the Russian Revolution, respectively. I think they both did outstanding jobs describing the devastation caused by war, but also highlighting the injustices that led to the wars.

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    • Thanks, Mary! Well said! You named two classics. (Somehow I’ve never read Pasternak’s opus.)

      As painful as it can be, I’m glad when novels are (at least somewhat) realistic about the devastation of war. Books that sanitize and/or glorify war aren’t doing the reading public any favors.

      Of course, the compelling “Gone With the Wind” has its troubling racial elements, but I guess that novel was realistic to a large extent in depicting the mindset of much of the 19th-century South. (And the 19th-century North was just as racist in many ways and often more hypocritical about it.)

      Last week, I saw the superb “12 Years a Slave” for the first time (at a friend’s), and it was devastating to watch. A much different experience than seeing the great/disturbing “Gone With the Wind” movie!

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      • I watched “12 Years a Slave” recently too! I cannot imagine how he lived through it! I did a little reading after I saw the movie, and it seems that he didn’t see any justice after his emancipation. It’s such a tragic story!

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        • Mary, a coincidence that you recently saw that movie, too! (Though what a painful experience.) The acting and directing were amazing.

          It IS hard to imagine how Solomon Northup lived through those 12 years, and it’s infuriating that he got no justice after becoming one of the rare people to return home after being kidnapped into slavery. If I’m remembering right, the closing credits of the movie mentioned that Solomon, as an African-American, had no legal right to sue in Washington, D.C. — where he was kidnapped, and that the lawsuit he did file against the two vile men who sold him into slavery had no effect.

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      • Its publishing history, and its uses to the West in the Cold War puts a special glow around this novel, as does the author’s associations with other writers in the Soviet Union. At least that’s how it appears to those of us alive when DR. Zhivago rose to incandescent fame among us. I wounder how it reads to younger people, and how well.

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        • Well said, jhNY!

          Yes, the “Doctor Zhivago” novel as well as the movie have a lot of cultural heft — or baggage, depending on how one looks at it. 🙂

          I’ll be interested to compare Pasternak’s book to more Soviet-friendly, “socialist realist” literature I’ve read — including Nikolai Ostrovsky’s “How the Steel Was Tempered” and the work of Maxim Gorky.

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          • I’m afraid my knowledge of Soviet-friendly Russian lit is sparse, especially after the rise of Stalin, and especially after he vanished away so many who had supported the revolution and helped give it voice, during and in the first years after. I’ve seen Gorky stuff around for years, and may well have read a short story or a passage or three– but if I did, nothing specific comes to mind.

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            • I haven’t read much of that lit myself, and of course thinking about things Soviet in that era leads to thoughts of the mass-murdering psychopath Stalin.

              “How the Steel Was Tempered” kind of symbolizes the Soviet era, which went from the sort-of-hopeful Lenin/Trotsky years to the Stalin debacle. The first part of the novel is riveting and the second part is basically a mess!

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  24. Gosh Dave kind of a restrictive topic for discussion , by including the effects and aftermath of war I figure everyone here could bust 100 novels or so read and worth reading. In the world of classics I doubt it possible to surpass that Homer dude, whomever he was, as not only first but perhaps the writer to come closest to the essence of war in it’s “glory” and brutal ugliness . Of more recent note I’d add Catch 22 for it’s brilliance in conveying the existential absurdity inherent even in the so called “Good War” Tim O’Brian’s The Things They Carried short story collection is probably the best work to come from the shameful Vietnam era and a return to WW2 with Norman Mailers the Naked and the Dead. It should be noted that the 100 year anniversary of WW1 is upon us and I don’t think it possible to overstate what an historical watershed that war was. It was a war that didn’t have to be fought yet ended up drastically changing the trajectory of not only geo politics but cultural and social mores irrevocably. Most readers are familiar with the poets ,I wonder if many have read a wonderful novel by Mark Helprin ..A Soldier of the Great War ? The protagonist as an old man tells his tale of becoming a soldier for Italy who fought on the front with Austria after being a young esthete intent on studying Art. There is no political or historical ax to grind ,just a long ,moving often sad ,sometime romantic, frequently absurd story that has to be unburdened which sweeps the reader in it’s wake. It may not be a classic in league with some of the more well known titles above but if your looking for a war saga dealing with The First World War I’d definitely recommend it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha! True, Donny. I certainly wrote about quite a wide topic. (Though not quite as wide as “Name Books That Contain Words. :-))

      I thought about Homer but never read “The Iliad” or “The Odyssey,” so I didn’t feel qualified to discuss those works. But I’m very glad you mentioned Homer.

      Thanks, also, for naming several other titles — including a Vietnam-related one. I was particularly intrigued by the Mark Helprin novel you mentioned, and on the to-read list it went.

      Agree with you about the senselessness and impact of WWI — whose anniversary, as you note, is with us.

      Terrific comment!

      Like

      • Oh no Dave…just noticed you have a new post, now I am clicking to the “notify me…” box…which I never did.
        On another blog due to some glitch suddenly on day I was getting e mails from every single comments and I ended up with hundreds of them.

        Okay I am clicking it now and keeping my fingers crossed Dave 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • bebe, sorry I didn’t notify you of the new column earlier this week. I was under the mistaken impression you were getting notifications of new columns. My fault!

          I hope you don’t get overwhelmed with emails. My columns here seem to get roughly 125 to 175 comments per piece, so you certainly won’t get hundreds of emails. But hopefully your setting will bring you only emails notifying you of replies to your own comments. 🙂

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          • Oh no Dave ..I was not keeping up with it, you do not have to send email to everyone..that is an enormous task on you. Hopefully I will get notified also I will check from time to time.
            This is another excellent piece and the comments are great.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Thanks for the comment and kind words, bebe. Much appreciated. 🙂 Yes, another bunch of great comments!

              At the moment, my tentative plan is to write a column a week, usually posting on Sunday night or Monday morning. In the fall, when I resume writing my literature book in earnest, I might post a new column every 10-14 days rather than weekly for a while.

              Liked by 1 person

                • This morning, I did manage to finish the 59th part of what will be a 100-part book, and have also cleared space on a shelf for when I win the…plastic ring in a box of Crackerjacks.

                  Thanks, Donny, for the funny — and kind — words!

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                  • Eric, I’m writing a book containing “fascinating facts” about great authors. (In prose form, not list form.) Facts such as the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses” originating from a description of the rich family of Edith Wharton (nee Jones). Isaac Asimov, who we discussed in another thread, is among the authors in there!

                    The book is about 60% done. Hope to see it published late this year or in 2015. Might self-publish it; my experience with the small press that published my first book was not pleasant.

                    Like

                  • Eric, thanks so much for your interest in the book! I’ll mention it on this blog after it’s published. It has been fun to write, and many authors we’ve discussed are mentioned. I limited the book to deceased authors, ranging from those who died many, many years ago to those (such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez) who died more recently.

                    By the way, in my previous comment about the book, I meant to say the family of Edith Wharton’s PARENTS. 🙂

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    • Donny, I forgot to mention in my earlier reply that although my local library didn’t have Nadine Gordimer’s “July’s People” (which you had recommended under a previous post), I did end up enjoying her “My Son’s Story” novel. Often depressing, but excellent — and I admire authors who can write political novels that are also very personal in their focus on specific characters.

      Thanks for spurring me to read Gordimer for the first time!

      Like

  25. I usually avoid books set in wartimes, but, as usual with me, an L.M. Montgomery book immediately springs to mind – Rilla of Ingleside. This novel, set during WWI, shows the almost unbearable effect that the war had on the Blythe family. While the book has Anne’s youngest daughter Rilla’s name in the title, and RIlla does evolve immeasurably and believably from a typical self-centered young teen to a responsible, self-sacrificing young woman during the course of it, to me the real central character is sensitive Walter – Anne’s second oldest son.

    Because Walter, unlike his older brother Jem, does not want to go to war. He cannot bear the thought of its pain and ugliness and he resists enlisting for so long that some of the townspeople start to consider him a coward. For somebody as anti-war as I am, his struggle is truly realistic and painful to read – especially since in two of Montgomery’s previous novels (Anne of Ingleside and Rainbow Valley), his ultimate decision and fate were very effectively, poetically, foreshadowed. And the descriptions of his family’s and friends’ (including Jem’s dog – especially the dog) reactions are so poignant and utterly heartbreaking that it’s one Montgomery book I just can’t reread very often.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lily, that novel has been on my list a long time — ever since you highly recommended it. I really need to read “Rilla of Ingleside” soon — and I will! Superb description of it, and thanks for the warning about how painful the book is even as it’s excellent.

      Walter’s reluctance, which you evoke so well, is especially poignant given that WWI (unlike WWII) was a war that in many ways was not necessary yet produced a heartbreaking amount of carnage.

      Like

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